by Jason Olson

It is simply amazing what winning can do for a high school football team.

After an 0-6 start to the 2010 season against some tough teams, Anoka won back-to-back games for the first time in a year with Wednesday’s 35-3 win over Park Center.

“It’s a lot more fun,” Anoka coach Jeff Buerkle said watching his players celebrate with the traveling Pumpkin Bowl trophy that will stay in Anoka for at least another year, a tradition that began in 1948. Wednesday’s win gives Anoka back-to-back Pumpkin Bowl victories after it outlasted Elk River 44-41 in 2009.

For any Anoka senior, playing in the Pumpkin Bowl means a little more than a regular win. This was epitomized by senior running back Jared Kurtz, who blasted out on a 49-yard touchdown run during opening possession. Kurtz emerged from the mass of bodies and confusion and was 10 yards past the nearest Park Center player before anyone realized he was in full sprint to the end zone.

Fellow Anoka senior teammate Matt Pint said after the game:

“It really means a lot to us seniors and the fact that it’s only the second win of the season doesn’t take anything away from it.” Pint went on to say the best part of the game came late. “It was just fun to see everyone get a chance to play.”

The team celebrated the win by hoisting 5-foot, 3-inch senior defensive lineman Kendrick Denson into the air after the game. Denson saw some action on the line late in the contest when he faced up on a towering 6-foot-2 tackle from Park Center named Demetrius Sims.

Buerkle said the short week of practice only made a bad week of practice worse, but the end result was what he expected.

Winning the Pumpkin Bowl means a lot to him, his staff and players.

“I know as dumb as it might sound, it is important for us to keep [the trophy] or else the other team takes it and does whatever [it wants to do] with it,” he said. “We’ve had it come back to us in pieces the next year.”

During the week, Buerkle challenged his players to make a decision about what would be etched onto the trophy for 2010:

“It’s your team that goes on there forever. A lot of these kids have had parents and even grandparents play for the trophy.”

Park Center tried to make the most of its bruised and battered roster, which didn’t include quarterback Michael Hintze who suffered a concussion the previous week. This opened the door for senior running back Curtis Larkins to carry the offense, which he did.

Larkins lined up in a variation of the Wildcat with some success both running and passing from the spot, but also took a beating.

After Larkins rushed for 150 yards on Anoka in 2009, Buerkle knew the best way to contain him would be to physically stop him from moving.

“We talked all week about him and not knowing if he would be the quarterback or running back.”

Either way, Anoka ‘s goal was to make his day miserable.

“No question about it, I’m not going to lie to you, the game plan was to get four or five guys hitting him because he is that good,” Buerkle said.

The Pirates scored their lone points on a 30-yard field goal by Alex Helfricht, 27 seconds into the second quarter.

Anoka ‘s Nick Morrison capped off an ensuing drive by leaping over the goal-line pylon on a sweeping run from approximately 15 yards out to give Anoka a 14-3 lead at the half.

Park Center moved the ball again during the next drive, moving even closer to the end zone after a pass interference penalty was called on Anoka ‘s Adam Bachler who was covering the receiver on a fade pass to the corner of the end zone on third down and 19. After refreshing the downs, Park Center started with the ball on Anoka ‘s 15 yard line but couldn’t translate it into points. Anoka linebacker Michael Wilkinson recognized a quick pass play and jumped up into the lane, knocking the ball incomplete with his fingertips. After a couple failed attempts to score Park Center quarterback Terrance Elmore scrambled on fourth down and goal from the 17 only to come up three yards short of the end zone.

Three plays into the second half Tornadoes quarterback Ben Britton threw an interception, but once again Park Center turned the ball over on downs at Anoka ‘s 31 yard line.

Anoka junior Josh Werness punched in a touchdown of his own to cap off the drive from five yards out before senior running back Pint scored the first of his two touchdowns with 14 seconds left in the third quarter from one yard out.

The final scoring sequence from the game came with 10:18 remaining. Pint began the drive with a 40-yard run into Park Center territory setting up a 26-yard scamper by Morrison. Pint finished the drive on the third long running play, scoring from 11 yards out.


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